Apache Indian’s reggae-bhangra doesn’t seem too far back for many Indians. The guy who got too much too soon tells he’s back with an album in May, after playing the underground scene
If you can recall the time when cable television first emerged in India, you probably will be familiar with Apache Indian. From the two-channel square meal provided by Doordarshan, viewers were thrilled when an all-you-can-eat spread appeased the hunger to connect to the rest of the world.
Apache Indian, born Steven Kapur, played a role in this “connect” between a new post-liberalisation India and the global music scene.
His single, ‘Chok There’, peaked at No. 30 on the U.K. charts, while his debut album No Reservations (released in May 1993) made it to the top-40 as well. Even with his barely comprehensible Britain-meets-Jamaica accent and menacing dreadlocks, the country considered him as one of its own. It would be easy to conclude that Kapur quickly understood the significance of his now trademark reggae-bhangra racks (which spawned the bhangramuffin’ genre), but its impact only hit him in stages.
“Reggae means everything to me, and through music I wanted to convey the many influences I had as a second-generation British-Indian surrounded by reggae-loving Jamaican immigrants and Punjabis in Birmingham, England. It was very a personal style, so I didn’t really think of the charts. I was very happy, though, when ‘Arranged Marriage’, ‘Chok There’ and ‘No Reservations’ did so well. When I got international acclaim, I said, ‘Wow! People respect my culture, my style and where I’m from’. That was really nice,” he says, after a live performance at CounterCulture in Bangalore, in collaboration with Hennessy Artistry.
A visit to India during the initial hype helped Kapur take it all in. “When I came to India, people were really into it. And I thought, ‘Can they even understand my accent? This wasn’t meant for the Indian market’. But they saw me on that world stage, and they connected with a few words and sounds. What they got from it was that I’m an Indian, and they were proud of it. It was a great feeling.” The new-found fame, however, took its toll. After a heady period when the monster hit ‘Boom Shack-A-Lak’ found Hollywood success as the soundtrack for ‘Dumb and Dumber’ (1994), Kapur seemed to disappear from the mainstream. The 45-year-old explains how it became a case of “too much, too soon”. “Everything happened too quickly. In three years, I had seven top-40 hits, with shows all over the world. I came to India, and we had crowds of 100,000 and 80,000. It was just too much.”
“It was great, but I didn’t have the experience to handle it. I had problems with management, record companies, merchandising companies etc. I liked the music, but I didn’t understand the business angles. I’m a musician, not a businessman. I was forced to do things I wasn’t comfortable attempting, so I took a step back. I started playing smaller reggae shows, so I didn’t go away completely. I worked with Asha Bhosle, A.R. Rahman and others, but I played the underground scene more to get experience. I actually loved that phase, when not everyone is in your face. Smaller venues are more personal, and much better.”
It is clear that reggae has remained his passion, and Kapur talks about his association with international star Sean Paul. “Yeah, he’s a good friend of mine. We have a very similar style, and we’ve toured together a lot in America. There are only a few internationally known reggae artistes now — Shaggy, Snow, Sean Paul, myself, and Shabba Ranks. We’re all friends.”
With over two decades of experience, Kapur is now ready to tackle the big stage again. Apache Indian will release his eighth album, It Is What It Is, in May this year. “I love the smaller venues, but there comes a time when you have to go for the big-time. Jim Beanz, who has worked with Nelly Furtado and Britney Spears, wrote and produced this album. It has new sounds, because… remember, I’m getting old, and we must please the new generation as well. The key is to keep it current. Trust me, this one is going to be big.”